I Wear the Black Hat

Written By:  Chuck Klosterman

Published By: Scribner

Reviewed by Melissa Minners


                Some time ago, I received a book from a friend entitled I Wear the Black Hat.  The cover featured the ages old villain silhouette, complete with twisted handlebar-ish mustache and goatee and a black top hat.  When I started reading the book, I could only get about five pages in before putting it down.  Sometime later, I noticed this book still on my shelf, unread, and thought to myself, “Hey, Mo Bear would never steer you wrong.”  So, I set out to try a second time.

                Chuck Klosterman is something of a modern-day philosopher, but his writing is a bit on the dry side.  However, there is no doubt he is quite knowledgeable and I soon began to get into his discussion of Machiavelli as a villain.  In Klosterman’s way of thinking, the villain is someone who knows too much and simply cares too little.  He talks about society’s effect on what would be considered villainy as opposed to what would be considered just making stupid choices.  It’s interesting to see just how much influence societal and cultural tides have on the idea of the villain.

                He starts to get into the debate of Joe Paterno and Jerry Sandusky.  Obviously, Sandusky is a villain for what he has done to the many young men he sexually abused over the years, but could it be that Mr. Paterno is an even worse villain.  He talks about D.B. Cooper and how his villainous act is often times revered rather than looked down upon…how sometimes villains are celebrated rather than denigrated. 

                And then he totally captures my attention by comparing Bernard Goetz to Batman.  Now, how can you compare someone who shot four teenage would-be muggers on a train in the 1980s to a DC Comics hero?  Simple – they were both vigilantes.  He asks the reader to forget that they ever knew about a Batman…that the comic book ever existed.  Now imagine that this man, dressed as some sort of mammal, has been parading around the dark streets taking down bad guys.  You know nothing about his motives, and when he seems to go too far, killing someone, you condemn him until you realize that this person he killed was evil…but should this caped crusader be above the law?

                This intrigued me, because I am a Batman fan and I am old enough to remember the Bernie Goetz case.  I could never see Goetz as the same sort of vigilante, especially after the way he handled the whole situation, but I would rather not go into it here – you simply have to read the chapter Easier Than Typing to understand why nobody would really compare Batman to Goetz unless we lived in a world where we had no idea of Batman’s motivation.  Goetz’ motivation was relevant, but the way he went about it was vile and then the aftermath was certainly interesting to say the least.

                Klosterman discusses other people perceived as villains by certain societal factions and why he would or wouldn’t consider them villains.  Some of the people he delves into are The Eagles (yes, the rock band), Kanye West, LeBron James, Seinfeld, Bill Clinton, Monica Lewinsky, Prince, Paul Kersey (Death Wish), Andrew Dice Clay, The Raiders, N.W.A., Perez Hilton, Julian Assange and more.  The research, insight and philosophical views presented by Klosterman are mesmerizing.

                I can honestly say that although it started slow, I was happy that I didn’t give up on I Wear the Black Hat the second time around.  This was quite an interesting read.  Now that a few years have passed since the book’s publication, I would love to hear Klosterman’s insights on some other new…or not so new villains out there.  What would he think about the recent Presidential race, I wonder?  If you’re reading this Mr. Klosterman, I’d love to chat with you about that.  In the meantime, I encourage all those thinkers out there to pick up a copy of I Wear the Black Hat and stick with it – you’ll be surprised at how much you will enjoy the read.


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